Reconciling Age-old Memories: Goodbye, Mother by Kim Joo-Young

  • onOctober 26, 2014
  • Vol.17 Autumn 2012
  • byJang Sungkyu
Goodbye, Mother

In the history of modern Korean literature, Kim Joo-Young is known as an epic novelist who delves into the life of common people and their afflictions in the context of history. His outstanding re-creation of history and inquiry into the lives of people is held in very high esteem. Then, in 2012, he published an entirely different kind of a novel.

Goodbye, Mother is a book about a protagonist who is coming to terms with age-old memories of his mother. The protagonist’s falling out with his mother came about long ago when she remarried, for her marriage came as a big shock to a boy in his adolescence. Many years later, even at the news of his mother’s death, the protagonist is unable to come to terms with his unhappy memories associated with his mother.

However, while making arrangements for her funeral, and through dialogue with his stepbrother, the protagonist is able to retrace the past from his mother’s perspective; thus begins the process of reconciliation. He begins to understand that his mother’s choice was imposed upon her by the ruthlessness of modern Korean history, such as the Japanese colonial period and the Korean War; moreover, his complicated family history was also a by-product of those tragic eras. Through his mother’s death the protagonist makes peace with the past and understands his mother’s life in its entirety.

Reconciliation always takes place a little too late. But if it weren’t for this belated reconciliation, how forlorn would be the memories that sustain our lives? Herein lies the importance of Kim Joo-Young’s novel, Goodbye, Mother. The future is dictated by how one deals with past memories. The future of the protagonist, who is able to bid his mother goodbye, will perhaps be filled with peace. 

Author's Profile

Kim Joo-young is a novelist who began his career as a writer with the publication of “A Period of Dormancy” in 1971 in the monthly Literature magazine. His published novels are TradesmanThe Sound of ThunderA Skate Fish and GoodbyeMother; his short story collections are Winter Bird and In Search of a Bird. He is the recipient of the Korea Culture and Art Award and Yi Sang Literary Award as well as numerous other literary prizes. In 2007, he received the Eungwan Cultural medal.